Participants in the second Africa Human Rights Defenders Training in West Africa organised by the World Council of Churches have called on faith-based institutions to use their constituencies to uphold human rights and dignity.
They have also expressed concern on failures in the justice system and denial of human dignity to the majority of people in the Mano River Union countries.
Thirty-five participants, mostly church workers and civil society representatives, including members of the Muslim community from Sierra Leone, Togo, Cote d’ Ivoire, Liberia, and Guinea, attended the training programme held in Freetown, Sierra Leone from 24 to 29 October 2011.
The training was organised with support from the European Union and hosted by the Council of Churches in Sierra Leone.
The participants examined the human rights situations in their countries in detail. The deteriorating conditions warrant action from states to protect the rights of people, they say, as well as concerted efforts to protect and support human rights defenders.
Participants also recommended that their countries take effective measures to ensure compliance with the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights, and guarantee effective protection of human rights defenders in all Mano River Union countries and Togo.
In a communiqué, the participants urged that the Human Rights Defenders should be trained to have a clear understanding of the implications of the International and Regional Human Rights Instruments signed and ratified by African countries, and they urged the governments of Mano River Union to incorporate in their national laws all the Human Rights Conventions and Protocols they have ratified.
Dr Mathews George Chunakara, director of the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the WCC, in his presentation on the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights Defenders (DHRD) and its practical applications in human rights advocacy, said that the added value of DHRD with regard to other human rights treaties is that the declaration articulates existing rights stipulated in all international human rights treaties and covenants, and elaborates on their scope with specific regard to human rights defenders.
He added that “defending human rights is an affirmation of the prophetic witness of the churches. Biblical values and Christian theology affirm the dignity of humanity, created in the image of God, and this belief is the strong motivating principle that will guide churches to defend human rights. Churches and the ecumenical movement are mandated to ‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; defend the rights of all those who have nothing’ (Proverbs 31:8)”.
Christina Papazoglou, WCC programme executive for human rights addressed the significance of human rights instruments and protection mechanisms, saying, that “the churches are uniquely qualified to speak prophetically to duty bearers as well as ensure that the voiceless are heard and human rights violations are denounced”.
Dr Nana Busia, representative of the Secretary General of the UN Mission in Sierra Leone, spoke at the opening session of the training saying that, given the role of the faith communities in resolving past conflicts within the sub-region, they are “challenged now to export its respect for, protection and advocacy of human rights, especially as they relate to the quest for power by political actors. When rights are often sacrificed to win the elections, the faith communities should come forward to safe-guard human rights”.
The participants also urged all political parties in Liberia to cooperate fully in the electoral process so that the country will produce credible and transparent results when the run-off election in Liberia takes place on 8 November 2011, reflecting the will of the people of Liberia and ensuring human security through a peaceful, democratic process.